The Fast and Furious series is one of the strangest franchises in existence. After a financially successful albeit shoddy launch, Universal lost one of its stars to a terrible sequel and nearly killed the franchise when it lost the other and moved to Japan. Then the confusingly titled Fast and Furious erupted in a big way, ensuring the franchise, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker several more sequels for the years to come.
Enter Fast Five.
Diesel and Walker, having nothing better to do with their time, return, this time on the run in Rio de Janeiro. Joining them are members of the cast from the previous films, including Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Matt Shulze and Sung Kang, and two new adversaries: Dwayne Johnson, looking like he stepped right out of the ring (and, in all scenes, a shower), and perennial villain Joaquim de Almeida.
While normally I would say plot doesn't matter, for the first time in the franchise's history it does. Dominic and Brian (Diesel and Walker) decide to take on a daring train heist to steal some cars, but in the process are falsely accused of murdering three DEA agents. The U.S. government sends a special task force, led by Johnson, after them, while the two criminals plot to steal $100 million from Rio's most notorious druglord (de Almeida).
Fast Five is directed by Justin Lin, who helmed the last three films, and with a larger budget the franchise is beginning to feel like an A-list blockbuster. It isn't, but as far as mindless action films go Fast Five is an entertaining thrill ride with some intense action sequences and plenty of fun moments.
The movie has several large action pieces, including a train heist, a gunfight through the slums of Rio (isn't that mandatory?), a smack down between Diesel and Johnson and, best of all, an absolutely brutal albeit completely unrealistic car chase with a several-ton vault inflicting major carnage on the streets of downtown Rio.
Unfortunately, Fast Five can't be one long action scene, and just like in the previous films, it suffers when the actors actually have to act. The movie screeches to a halt several times as screenwriter Chris Morgan insists that we care about the characters having a laugh with each other, talking about babies and other boring stuff. These pace-killers are particularly obnoxious and cheesy later in the film.
And poor Tyrese Gibson has to struggle through many of the worst one-liners ever written.
Even when the movie isn't trying to be sappy, it's best to check your brain at the door. It's respectable that the franchise has finally found its footing, but Fast Five has as many plot holes as it does fast cars and beautiful women combined (on that note, Gal Gadot and Elsa Pataky look great).
Fast Five won't win any awards for best screenplay this year, but it's still a intensely satisfying thrill ride. I would have said it has a few more sequels to go before it can compete with the big boys, but with a record $86 million opening this weekend, it's already there.
It might not be summer just yet, but Fast Five tricked me.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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